Smoke Out

On a recent night at Pianos, a popular Lower East Side nightspot, a handful of smokers hid in the darkened back room while others held their cigarettes low to the ground, the easier to extinguish them in case of an arriving bouncer. In an act of defiance worthy of a high-school cafeteria, a few even puffed away in plain sight of security. The scene came to an angry climax when a guard finally thundered, “Take it outside!”—where the exiles had lots of company.

Less than a week after the “grace period” ended for the smoking ban, a new face-off du jour has replaced the war of words between hawks and doves. It’s not simply smokers versus nonsmokers but smokers versus apartment dwellers.

“We’ve had residents from adjoining buildings dump buckets of water on our patrons smoking outside,” moans David Baxley, co-owner of Centro-Fly and East Village bar Drinkland. “Most of the people living above bars in the East Village don’t have central air-conditioning; they hear every word that’s said out there.” The situation has already become so extreme that one local, Ben Dietz, says he’s moving because of “drunken, smoking sidewalk slugs.”

Both sides of the smoking debate seem to agree that by cleaning up the air inside, Bloomberg may have created a new quality-of-life problem outside. “New York City used to have a lot of bars,” wrote Joe Queenan in The Spectator. “Now it is a bar.”

One bar owner frets about the “almost palpable tension on the streets. I’m dreading the summer.” New York Nightlife Association attorney Robert Bookman agrees: “We’re seeing the tip of the iceberg. Just imagine what’s going to happen come July.” (A Bloomberg spokesperson counters that there’s yet to be a spike in smoking-related 311 calls.) Alec DeRuggiero, music director at APT in the meatpacking district, says the club may well expand its smoking terrace: “We’re lucky. We have industrial neighbors.”

Then there’s the widespread rumor among bar owners that all the sidewalk congestion may result in the unthinkable—a rollback of bar-closing times from 4 to 2 a.m. Only the State Legislature, however, could take such a move. “It’s not in the city’s charter to revise the law,” says the mayoral spokesman, “and no official has proposed amending it.”

But bar and nightclub owners are still jittery. “You never say never anymore,” says Bookman. “I would have never predicted that the smoking ban would come to pass.” One Manhattan promoter adds that all the stress has been hazardous to his health. “I started smoking again the day the ban went into effect,” he says angrily. “Thanks a lot, Bloomberg.”

Smoke Out